A coordinated right-wing effort has been mounted to obstruct Philip Coyle, the President’s nominee to become an Associate Director at the Office of Science and Technology. Coyle’s offense? He had the temerity to accurately point out that ground-based long-range missile defense is scientifically and conceptionally bunk.
However, pointing out the factual inadequacies of missile defense hits the right wing at its emotional core. Its support for such a wasteful and strategically naïve system has almost become theological in nature. The right does not care about the system’s opportunity costs (we spend more on it than the entire Coast Guard), or the program’s effectiveness (there have been no realistic tests), or the implications of its development (a new arms race). Instead, for the right this is purely a faith-based defense program, making anyone who can effectively challenge it the target of a witch-hunt.
Therefore the main complaint the right has with Coyle, is not that he is wrong, it is that well, he is not radically right-wing about missile defense. This has nothing to do with his qualifications, which are immense. He served in the Pentagon for seven years as an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Test and Evaluation and before that for more than 30 years at the nuclear lab at Lawrence Livermore. He was also selected by George W Bush to serve on the Base Realignment Commission (BRAC) in 2005.
But Coyle over the last ten years has consistently debunked missile defense claims and critiqued the wisdom behind the system. This has prompted a massive right-wing push. According to the Cable’s Josh Rogin, the Heritage Foundation is engaging in an intensely partisan lobbying effort on the Hill to get members to obstruct Coyle’s nomination, as they are circulating a memo that “asks senators to stall the Coyle nomination.” Heritage leads the way in peddling missile defense mythology. Naturally, right-wing obstructionist senators like Jim DeMint, as well as apparently other Senators have leapt to obstruct Coyle’s nomination.
Articles in the Weekly Standard and the National Review have emerged this week to defend this obstructionism. Yet all these pieces do is merely point out that Coyle has opposed missile defense. John Noonan tried, albeit feebly, to refute Coyle’s arguments, but the best he could do was to say that, while some arguments that Coyle made in 2006 were factually true, when he testified last year he didn’t make those same factual points. Instead he shifted and made new factually accurate arguments!
Noonan also protests that Coyle doesn’t acknowledge that the tests of ground based missile defense were successful – we can now not only hit a bullet, but we can hit a spot on a bullet, or so the refrain goes. That is true, but also irrelevant. These are open book tests. To hit a “bullet with a bullet” the tests have been constructed so that we know precisely when and where that bullet will be.
Given Iran’s recent tests of missiles with increasing ranges and its successful launch of a satellite into orbit, Mr. Coyle’s questioning of the intentions of rogues such as Iran is incredibly naïve.
But as Coyle notes, “Missile defense is the most difficult development the Pentagon has ever attempted and if it (the threat) were real, the proposed missile defense systems couldn’t deal with it anyway,” since if Iran is as craven to attack and is undeterrable as the right suggests it could easily build more missiles to overcome any system. The right’s logic eats itself, as they naively fail to grasp the basic military premise that the “enemy has a vote.”
However, Fly really gave away the plot when he acknowledged that “it is true” Coyle was being nominated to a position that had “not played a key role in major policy decisions” relating to missile defense. But no matter, Coyle through his years of knowledge and expertise may insidiously seek to “influence policy debates about issues, such as missile defense, that he has worked on for years,” says Fly.
In other words, because Coyle has impeccable credibility on this issue, resulting from his decades of experience and expertise, he must be stopped.